Welcome back to the fourth and final roundtable question! Thank you SO much to the authors behind Not All Monsters for sharing their ideas, insights, and inspirations! Check out all the roundtable questions here.
How do you think being a writer has helped you as a person? Who are some contemporary women in horror that you love reading?
Angela Sylvaine: I think being a writer helps me understand that every character, and therefore every person in real life, is rich and complicated. Good or bad, we all have motivations and baggage and fears and dreams. No one is just what they appear to be on the surface.
Some of my favorite recent women’s horror includes Bunny by Mona Awad, which was achingly beautiful, extremely brutal, and completely confusing. I’m still not sure I understand what happened in that book, but I was enthralled. In young adult horror, I loved both Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer and The Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. Both featured richly developed young women as strong characters, and I love reading great YA horror.
Hailey Piper: Writing has helped process dealing with various aspects of life, and I’d like to think that gives me a better understanding of what I’m going through. It doesn’t always work, of course.
As for contemporary women in horror, that reading list is a mile long! But Sara Tantlinger, Claire Holland, Marjorie Liu, Joanna Koch, Eden Royce, Christa Carmen, Gwendolyn Kiste, Priya Sharma, Eliza Chan, Laura Mauro, A.C. Wise, V.H. Leslie, Tracy Fahey … I could go on. Forever.
Joanna Roye: Becoming a writer has actually helped me become more sure of myself, of my identity and place. By figuring out my voice, it’s helped me reflect on who I am and how I can interact with the world. I love reading Gwendolyn Kiste, Kelly Link, Tananarive Due, and Mariko Koike.
Joanna Koch: I used to do art to get the demons out. Words require commitment. I’ve become more honest with myself and with others through writing. Dare I say I’ve become more human? I guess I’m going to get kicked out of the robot club now. I was really counting on that new mechanical body. Damn.
There are too many excellent female identified authors to keep up with in horror! My TBR list is ever-expanding. It’s a good problem to have.
Fellow “Not All Monsters” authors I’ve loved reading include Christa Carmen, Jessica McHugh, and Hailey Piper. Piper is a favorite who I’ve watched grow tremendously over the past year. I can’t wait to see where she takes her work in the near future. Writers who glean literary respect beyond the genre like Carmen Maria Machado, Kathe Koja, and Alma Katsu blow me away with vastly different but equally rich and complex works. Some women I’m planning to read more of soon include Georgina Bruce, Gwendolyn Kiste, Damien Angelica Walters, Claire C. Holland, Laurel Hightower, Stephanie Wytovich, and Christina Sng. I do love a good horror poem, and your name definitely goes on my list! I’m honored to talk with you, Sara!
Leslie Wibberley: CNF allows me to explore my reactions to problematic events in my
life, either in the past, or as they unfold. Once the emotion settles, the act of writing those reactions on the page allows me just enough distance to be objective, helping me to work through the issues.
Fiction does the same. Placing my characters into challenging situations and playing with their reactions, often helps me in my own life. But unlike CNF, I’m the one who chooses the final outcome, and I love the heady sense of power that brings.
A few of my favorite women in horror are Angela Slatter, Kelly Link, Carina Bissett, Angela Carter, K.T. Wagner, Shirley Jackson, and a fresh new voice in the horror world, whose writing is as lyrical as it is disturbing—Sara Tantlinger.
Christa Carmen: Being a writer has helped me as a person in that it gives me a creative outlet for all the things I love or fear or obsess over or just want to know more about in the world. Being a horror writer in particular allows me to grapple with issues that worry me or invoke unease, and I’m grateful that I discovered early on that it was, indeed, horrorfiction that allowed for this in-depth exploration as opposed to, say, poetry or creative nonfiction, because I’m far better at penning a horror tale than I am at conceptualizing a memoir or stringing together a haiku.
Some contemporary women in horror that I love reading are Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Nadia Bulkin, Ania Ahlborn, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Christina Sng, Elizabeth Hand, Nancy Holder, Joyce Carol Oates, Claire C. Holland, Anya Martin, Erin Sweet Al-Mehari, Renee Miller, Theresa Braun, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, Damien Angelica Walters, Lauren Groff, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, and all the amazing women in the Not All Monstersanthology.
Briana McGuckin: It comes back to that idea of subverting power as therapeutic. I have cerebral palsy, and when I was a kid – when I started writing – I was skin, bones, and surgical scars. I was in and out of a wheelchair. The only extra-curricular activity I did was dance class, as physical therapy – but there were recitals, so I always felt I was bringing everybody else down. When I rode the short bus, I got shoved in lockers and called “retarded.” I knew I was smart. It’s not that you believe what bullies say about you – it’s that you know they’re wrong, and yet there’s no changing the atmosphere. You don’t make the rules. But when you write, you control everything. You can put down what it feels like to be you, and no one can erase it. It gives you space for your narrative.
As for contemporary women in horror, I just read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It’s packed full of everything you want in a classic gothic horror novel – the old house, the weird family, things being on fire – and yet it’s so readable for a modern audience. It feels like rich, aged, time-tested fiction.
Jennifer Loring: Much like reading, writing helps you become empathetic. This is especially important when you’re writing characters that aren’t representative of yourself, as I often do. Being a writer has also helped with my anxiety disorder; I used to avoid public speaking and social events in general, but now I love attending conferences and conventions and getting to know other writers. As far as contemporary women horror writers, I love Gwendolyn Kiste, S. P. Miskowski, Livia Llewellyn, Gemma Files, Kristi DeMeester, Betty Rocksteady—and you, of course! 😊 Also, despite not being “horror” writers per se, Gillian Flynn and Sara Gran have written some pretty horrific stuff (Sharp Objectsand Come Closer, respectively).
J.C. Raye: I am ashamed to say that I have learned more about geography, culture, and world history from writing my first dozen short stories than during my entire K-College education. I spent the first twenty years of life trying to get by without studying all those juicy details which make a story rich. Now, I can easily spend two weeks seeking out exact names of native foliage for a midwestern ghost town, studying traditions of Vietnamese paper-lantern making, or discovering what caves exist off the coast of Ireland.
I love reading ANY women in horror. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And the darkness of a woman’s imagination truly has no bottom. Want to stay up nights? Yeah? Read a horror story concocted by a woman.
Juliana Spink Mills: I came to writing late, though I’ve loved words my entire life. I only started writing seriously when I turned 40 and my kids were old enough to not need me all the time. Writing grounds me, but also gives me room to spread my wings and soar. It’s something all mine, a myriad of secret worlds to explore and special places only I can access and bring to life. Writing completes me.
As for other writers, I tend to read more fantasy and sci fi than horror, though there is a lot of bleed-through (ha! blood!) from one to the other. I loved Holly Black’s Folk of the Airtrilogy, for instance, which is technically fantasy but does have some horror elements. Northern Irish writer Jo Zebedee definitely blurs that line between horror, sci fi, and fantasy, and I’m a huge fan of her work. In her Waters and the Wild, for instance, she goes quite dark indeed. And in terms of actual horror writers, you can’t go wrong with the fabulously talented Gwendolyn Kiste.
G.G. Silverman: Writing has helped me have a safe space to explore my own thoughts and feelings. It has also helped me become more empathetic, and notice more about my surroundings, and about people. It forces me to be mindful, and present, and to witness. It has also brought me great friendships, people I’m certain I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for my writing habit.
As for contemporary women in horror I love reading, I really love Carmen Maria Machado. Joyce Carol Oates’ work is also really amazing. Then there are peers who are doing great stuff, like Sarah Read, Stephanie Wytovich, and Gwendolyn Kiste. There are so many great female voices in horror. It’s an exciting time to be a writer *and* a reader.
Amy Easton: For me, writing is invaluable for making sense of the world and my place in it – I would be far less grounded without it. I love bringing narrative elements into my therapy work and horror is particularly well-suited for meaningful representation. I tend to read nonfiction soam excited to explore the darker side of fiction through the works of my anthology sisters! As for recommendations, current favorites are Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women and Sady Doyle’s Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers.
Kayleigh Barber: I think being a writer has helped me in so many ways. It’s helped me
develop my sense of empathy, as well as helping me step out of my comfort zone. There have also been times when it’s been an escape, a way to step back from life or even my own brain and work through things in a way that I can shape and control.
For female horror authors, I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Sara Tantlinger. To Be Devoured still makes me shudder when I think of certain scenes. Mira Grant’s Feedtrilogy is one of my all-time-favorite reads. Donna Lynch’sChoking Back the Devilwas wonderful. I also have books by Gwendolyn Kiste, Sara Gran, and Christa Carmen that I can’t wait to read!
Annie Neugebauer: Writing has helped me in more ways than I can easily pin down and articulate. I do know that writing has been a creative outlet for me, of course, and a way to better understand myself and other people. It’s one of the ways I process life and explore the world. It’s also an escape: something that’s mine and only mine that can always be exactly what I want it to be. It’s given me empathy, wisdom, healing, understanding, joy, and contentment. But all of that sounds trite compared to how it feels.
As far as contemporary authors go, I’m absolutely obsessed with Tana French’s work. She’s incredibly brilliant, whether veering toward or away from horror. I also consistently love Gillian Flynn, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gemma Files, and Sarah Waters. And I’ve read fantastic books lately by Zoje Stage, Catherine Burns, Lauren Beukes, and Marisha Pessl. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many women crafting incredible short fiction, for example, that I can’t even begin to list them all!
J.H. Moncrieff: Writing has helped me use my voice to educate and inspire others, and hopefully help them see things differently. When I’m writing regularly, I’m a much happier, more content, and focused person. I’m never lonely because my characters surround me. Writing helps me unpack a lot of negativity, worries, and fears that would probably otherwise drive me crazy, like the poaching and senseless killing of animals (see #1). As for contemporary women in horror, I love Catherine Cavendish, Somer Canon, Lee Murray, Susan Hill, and Sarah Pinborough. I’m probably forgetting many, so please forgive me.
Sam Fleming: I’m neuro-atypical and have hypergraphia. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. It took about four decades for me to start submitting, though, and I need to differentiate between the writing I do because I haveto, and the writing that tells stories. Being the kind of writer who sends stuff out has made me much more robust to, and yet also open to criticism, and taught me to be kinder myself. I am a terrible perfectionist, and competitive to boot, but you can’t control what an editor wants to see. You might have a great story and still see it rejected, because it wasn’t right for that market at that time. It has enabled me to segregate personal criticism from criticism of my work, and my time in crit groups has taught me to be more sensitive to other people. I’m so much better at tailoring a message for my audience than I used to be.
I have favourite stories rather than writers. I loved Michele Paver’s Dark Matter, and Carole Johnstone’s “Better You Believe”. That said, if a contents page lists Kelly Robson, A.C. Wise, Leah Bobet or Gwendolyn Kiste, I’ll probably read those stories first.
Jessica McHugh: I don’t think I’m great at expressing myself verbally. When I was a kid, I’d often sit up in bed at night besieged by anxieties I couldn’t articulate, so I’d just scream at the top of lungs. My poor parents probably thought I was being murdered the first time it happened. Even when I got better at discussing my feelings, I’ve always felt more comfortable channeling them through a character. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” and that rings true for me as well. Writing is screaming at the page, and editing is figuring out why I needed to scream in the first place.
When it comes to contemporary women in horror, it almost hurts not to list 20+ names because there are so many kickass ladies rocking the genre right now. Some of my favorites are Betty Rocksteady, Damien Angelica Walters, Stephanie Wytovich, Sarah Pinborough, Carmen Maria Marchado, Sheri White, Emma Johnson, Sarah Read, Tananarive Due, and Lucy Snyder.
K.P. Kulski: Writing is the ultimate outlet. There’s that great quote attributed to Sappho floating around the internet, “what cannot be said will be wept.” I really want that quote to be something Sappho said, but there is no proof of that. However, I love the quote even if she didn’t say it. I think it also describes what writing can do. Fiction can be the display of truth through the creation of lies. Words like sorrow and rage by themselves convey nuanced meanings, but works of fiction give us the depth of the meaning. We can say, “I am sad” but saying it with a story is the weeping of truth that cannot ever be given proper justice without the fiction.
I can gush forever about writers, especially women writers. I recently read Shawna Yang Ryan’s Water Ghostsand it is the most crushing, beautiful and haunting story. It flits along the threshold of horror, but that’s something about it that I absolutely adore. I’m a fan of graphic novels as well so I have to mention Marjorie M. Liu’s Monstress series, not only is the story and world gripping, the art by Sana Takeda is horrifying and breathtaking and gorgeous all at once. I had the honor of being at a poetry reading with Donna Lynch, Saba Razvi and a woman named Sara Tantlinger… you might know her. I’m pretty sure I looked like a rabid fan as I immediately purchased their work so I could spend my life reading their books by candlelight. I may have also used their poems to curse the wicked. As one does.